Apple Watch vs. Garmin Fenix 6X

What makes me consider Apple Watch with every new version and why I'm staying with Garmin Fenix 6X.

Apple Watch vs. Garmin Fenix 6X

Apple Watch.

“Do I need it?” —No.

”Do I want it?” —Of course!

Marketing works. The Watch is one of those attractive things that Apple keeps bombing me with, and I keep considering it. For years I kept thinking about getting an Apple Watch every time a new one came out. And each time I realized it’s not for me.

You see, I’m a lifestyle athlete, so I need a “real” sports watch more than I need a smartwatch. I need something sturdy, reliable, with a battery that lasts more than two days. That’s why I’ve been using Garmin’s devices — mostly Fenix-es — for nearly a decade. And I’ve got all those years worth of fitness data in Garmin Connect. I’m not naive to trust this one service, so everything is also synced into Endomondo, and most of it to Strava as well.

But Garmin is like Evernote — they fell asleep. Sexier, better looking, more attractive, fresh providers are whizzing past them left and right.

From my perspective, the biggest error of this company seems to be that they consider themselves a hardware/device company, while they are — or should be — a software services company that happens to create devices that collect the data. If they’d be smart enough to figure that out, they’d invest more into software development, maybe acquire someone like TrainingPeaks, to get more professionals, and Strava or Endomondo to get more lifestyle athletes. For as long as they’ll be competing with Polar, Suunto, and the other gear guys, they’ll be dying a slow death, waiting for the Apple train to run them over.

And that worries me. Fenix is a great device, but Garmin Connect is an awful service. It has an outdated interface, poor UX, and it just can’t compete with other platforms. Its advantage is that it’s filled with our data, which is tough and cumbersome to move, so that’s the only moat. Evernote comes to mind again. But it’s just a question of time before the pain of moving gets outgrown by the beauty of getting away. Garmin, you still have time — open the wallets, invest in software development, invest in UX, and move up.

But let’s return to the gear. With the WatchOS 7 out, I got interested in the Watch again. But I decided to test out the new OS by borrowing my wife’s Apple Watch 3. I got her this one during one of my trips to California, and she’s mainly using it for running, she never adopted the idea of wearing it all day and using all of its smart features.

My first experience was weird. Taking off the bulky (“manly”) Garmin Fenix 6X and putting on a 38-millimeter Apple Watch with a white silicone band felt de-masculizing. But I put my ego besides and focused on the functionality. It was painful at first. I had to update the WatchOS to version 7 (my wife isn’t much of an updater), and that took forever. I had to take the watch off and connect it to a charger while keeping the iPhone close. The whole update took around 3 hours, which is longer than updating an iPhone, iPad, and MacBook — combined. Once complete, I got to play with the new WatchOS 7. It offers some great features, like sleep tracking, and I loved the way it integrates with my iPhone. But then I got to test the fitness features and was very disappointed. The running app seems super unreliable, and I hate that it starts automatically. There’s a lack of things to set up, and I can’t imagine any serious runner using it. Apple knows that, that’s why they immediately offered to download the Nike Running App. That one is a bit better, but still pretty basic. I guess they had to decide between making it easy to use and adjustable, and they went for where the majority of their target customers are — on the easy side of the spectrum.

The sleep tracking is well integrated with the iPhone, and it offered me to create my evening wind-down routine, set the alarm, and adjust the apps. The worrisome part is, that you need to make sure Apple Watch is charged enough to last you through the night. The software will warn you of that, but I hate that it’s a barely-a-day-battery.

However, the sleep tracking worked well and seemed pretty accurate, but in the morning I still decided to take it off, and put my Fenix 6X back on for the morning yoga practice.

Apple Watch vs. Garmin Fenix 6X

Fenix might not be as smart as the Watch, but its battery will last for a week — depending on the GPS usage — and I rarely worry about charging it or running out of juice. The time is always visible without any weird hand movements necessary, and it’s readable even in direct sunlight. But what I appreciate the most, is that it’s made for activity. The fitness tracking features are at the forefront, they take over the screen, and they’re very reliable. I never doubted that Garmin wouldn’t track my runs, or that the running app is going to die halfway through, or that I’ll mess something up by accidentally touching the screen.

And that brings me to the reason that I keep deciding against getting an Apple Watch — my primary need is a fitness tracker. I want a device to track my heart rate, steps, floors climbed, and all the sports activities I’ve done. I don’t need a smartwatch features beyond the basic notifications. —Any modern fitness watch can deliver these. And I don’t like to be distracted, so I don’t need a watch to read the emails or messages, nor to keep nudging me with whatever is happening on the iPhone. —The phone is in silent mode with Do Not Disturb turned on for most of the day. I don’t like to get pinged or interrupted by anything. I prefer to choose when I’ll check what’s going on on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook. I check emails on my pre-defined schedule, not when someone else decides to send them. The only notifications that get through are from my Family, my Team, and my Bosses. SMS messages will appear on the Fenix 6X, and so will the calls. The only other smart feature I’m using is controlling the music during the runs, and Fenix can do that well.

But Apple Health and the Fitness apps are developing nicely. I do keep my data in those as well. At one point, Apple will come out with an app that will turn off all the noise and deliver exactly what Garmin devices deliver today, focus on fitness activities, with reliable tracking, combined with a multi-day battery. And that’s when I’m going to move over. Software is eating the world, and Garmin’s leadership better realize that while they still have time. Because I want them to succeed, I want to keep using the service and wearing a device that sets me apart from every other capitalist consumer out there. I want the gear on my wrist to say this guy is serious about his workouts. And that’s what Garmin Fenix 6X really does — communicates the status. It says that you’re a runner, a triathlete, a real lifestyle athlete. That’s Garmin’s moat. 

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